Conference paper

Adjustment to retrenchment – a case of challenging the global economy in the suburbs?

Job redundancy Cities and towns Globalisation Land use Manufacturing Adelaide
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Abstract: Beck (1999; 2000) has argued that economic globalisation was at the heart of the transition from the Fordist era of mass production and consumption to the post Fordist era of flexible accumulation and flexible employment, a transition which has led to considerable job insecurity in the West. However at the turn of the century Australians were relatively confident about not being retrenched - in 2003, only one in eight respondents felt that losing their job was likely or very likely (Wilson, Meagher et al. 2003). Research by the ABS (2002) showed that in order to find a new job, 30 per cent of workers had to change industry, 23 per cent changed occupation, 13 per cent change hours of work and 16 per cent changed between permanent and casual status. Most workers do not relocate to find new jobs. Retrenchment usually plays out in a suburban setting. Media portrayals of retrenchment often depict workers as victims and inevitably worse off and suburban life still suffers from the “myths of suburbia” characterisation. Furthermore capital is global and labour is local making it difficult for workers and communities to coordinate resistance. However Tomaney et al.(1999) argue that plant closures and redundancies are socially produced, politically and legally regulated and that research should identify structure, agency and contingency in understanding empirical events. This paper reports findings from a three year mixed methods study of voluntary and involuntary retrenchment at two automotive industry plants in metro Adelaide in 2004. It explores two related questions – what are the key issues and opportunities that arise for workers as a result of retrenchment and how does the experience of suburban life mediate the adjustment process where adjustment is able to be seen at multiple levels – as dealing with the end of the era of “a job for life”, in terms of coping with any loss of the latent and or manifest benefits of work and in terms of a new balance between home and work. The paper discusses how adjustment is influenced by the retrenchment package, the journey to work, the new job and the meaning of home.

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